While stage productions at the Aurora Theatre in downtown Lawrenceville have always showcased the talents of those involved, the venerable theater company’s newest venue will no doubt be the shining star this performance season.

Set to open in late October or early November, the 56,000-square-foot Lawrenceville Arts Center will include a 500-set theatre, office, rehearsal and classroom spaces (for use by Georgia Gwinnett College’s Music and Theatre departments), a courtyard performance area, and endless entertainment opportunities.

“When all is said and done, (with) the two spaces we currently have, plus these new additional spaces, the Lawrenceville Arts Center will have five performance spaces,” said Aurora Theatre co-founder and artistic director Anthony Rodriguez said of the new $35 million multipurpose facility.

Aurora Theatre, which like other entities of its ilk, has done yeoman work to provide content in this COVID-centric time, generally kicks off its performance season in the late summer, but this year’s season opener – David Rosetti’s popular “Christmas Canteen” show – won’t debut until late November.

“Generally, our season would start at the end of July with a big musical – that is our standard calendar,” Rodriguez said. “But with the new Lawrenceville Arts Center coming on line in late October or early November, we decided to do a few other performances before then, which we’ve done, and now we’re deep into preparation for getting our 26th annual presentation of Christmas Canteen ready to open in November.”

Last year, the “Christmas Canteen” show did go on, albeit in the open air at the Bowl at Sugar Hill, but this year the music-dance-and-comedy revue will take place in the new performance venue.

“It’s going to be on the Grand Stage of the new Lawrenceville Arts Center,” said Rodriguez, who added that the theater was grateful to the city of Sugar Hill for “making sure we would not miss a single year of ‘Christmas Canteen.’’

“It will be in the 500-seat theatre and it will have all-new scenery, all-new costumes and an all-new production. And it will be a beautiful way for us to open the beautiful new Lawrenceville Arts Center. It’s a show that’s become synonymous with the holidays in Gwinnett County. It will be a joyful way for our patrons and our community to kick off the holiday season.”

Also on tap for the theatre’s four-show season (reduced from the usual six productions) will be the spooky drama “Feeding Beatrice” in January, a production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella,” and the farce “Swindlers,” which will close out the season in May.

And there will be myriad productions before and after the big four, including Rodriguez’s return to the boards for the 15th anniversary of his one-man presentation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol;” a Dios Los Muertos festival; the theatre’s ongoing comedy nights; an Oct. 2 concert featuring the 3rd Stream Big Band with vocalist Eric Moore; “I Feel Good: A James Brown Tribute” on Oct. 16; an Aurora Children’s Playhouse presentation of Arthur Atsma’s Halloween Magic Show; and Actor Mommy Production’s “Broadway Baby Mamas” on Nov. 6.

Rodriguez is among many for whom the new performance center has been a long time coming.

“We’ve probably been thinking about it and talking about it for 10 years or so,” he said. “The pieces started to come together five or six years ago and we broke ground in May 2019. It’s going to be a bright future and as we like to say, ‘The future is now,’ and we are in the middle of it.”

The Aurora Theatre put into place new COVID protocols last year. Patrons will have to show proof of vaccine or a negative COVD test and will have to be masked in the venue.

“If we’re doing those things and also masking the audience, there’s no need for us to social distance and we would be able to have a robust crowd present for any of our performances,” Rodriguez said. “Where we will be with those protocols when we get to Christmas? I don’t know.

“But you know how this has gone. It’s day to day and we’ll take it that way and see where the cases are. I think things are moving in a much better direction right now from what I’m seeing, but the world changes quickly these days.”

For more information on the Aurora Theatre, call 678-226-6222 or visit www.auroratheatre.com.

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